NOVEMBER 2, 2017 – It has been 22 years since Yitzhak Rabin was gunned down after attending a peace rally, along with 100,000 other Israelis in Tel Aviv. The rally was held to support the Oslo Accords, and came at a fractious time in Israeli politics when Rabin was criticized by the country’s right – including then-Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu – for signing a peace agreement with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians. Netanyahu, who sought the prime minister’s office at the time, addressed supporters who held placards depicting Rabin in a Nazi uniform, and in a kefiyah.
Just two years before, the country seemed unified in its support for the Oslo deal. For a majority of Israelis, 1993 marked a time of great hope that peace with the Palestinians could ease the constant worry that residents had experienced since its founding in 1948. And the peace deal also signaled to the world that Israelis were prepared to live side-by-side with Palestinians. But by 1994, it became clear to many that Arafat neither had the will or desire to control his people. In April of 1994, Hamas claimed responsibility for suicide attacks in Afula and Hadera that killed 13; in October of the same year, a Hamas suicide bomber blew up a bus in Tel Aviv and killed 22, and a month later three were killed by a Hamas bomb at the Netzarim Junction in Gaza. In 1995, Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for four attacks that killed 39 – including 21 Israeli soldiers at a bus stop in central Israel.
As Palestinian terror incidents soared, the country began to lose faith in the deal. Meanwhile, Arafat did little to gain credibility with the Israeli public: he condemned the attacks in English, but endorsed the violence in Arabic, and at the same time called for “jihad” or holy war against Israel.
Netanyahu, who ran on a platform that called for security and holding Palestinians accountable for terror, nevertheless continued Rabin’s lead after he was elected Prime Minister in 1996, and participated in further peace talks with Palestinians. In 1998, he signed the Wye River Memorandum with Arafat. But soon he was out of office, replaced by Ehud Barak. Then a second Intifada began in 2000, during which suicide bombings, and shootings claimed the lives of 150 Israelis during a 12-month period. Despite American intervention, the attacks continued, and by 2001 the peace process was officially dead.
Sixteen years later, there are still some among the Israeli left who believe a peace deal is possible. But if you walk down the streets of Tel Aviv, and downtown Jerusalem, few people talk about Rabin these days. Most Israelis have accepted that they live during a time of an unsolvable conflict, and just hope for quiet on the streets each day. While Israel has swung right since Netanyahu regained the Prime Minister’s office 11 years ago, Palestinians have also become even more militant – and divided. For over 10 years, Hamas has run Gaza, and Fatah has been in charge of the West Bank, with the two opposition parties effectively running two autonomous Palestinian states. Despite talk of a reconciliation pact, there is nothing to suggest that Hamas will ever recognize Israel, or that Fatah will prepare its followers for a lasting peace.
Many on the right blame Rabin for opening the door to a Palestinian state. But 22 years ago, the public endorsed the desire to give peace a chance. As one of the country’s leading military men, Rabin knew the meaning of war. And he believed that the price of peace would be preferable to continuing an intractable conflict. He took a chance and while Oslo failed, historians will remember him as a man who wanted to move his country forward, and into a time of peace.